The Singsong of Old Man Kangaroo
by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
I think of Kipling (internal link — one of several) as a master of putting down difficult dialects on a page, similarly skilled as Mark Twain. The confidence and style he showed with his children stories, though, is equally impressive.
In this story he repeats certain sentences and phrases over and over. They do not detract from the work, rather, they become more and more important to the story as the tale goes on. “He had to,” is a phrase insistent, but when you read it five or six times you realize, “He _had_ to.” Marvelous stuff.
This is a nice group reading.
NOT always was the Kangaroo as now we do behold him, but a Different Animal with four short legs. He was grey and he was woolly, and his pride was inordinate: he danced on an outcrop in the middle of Australia, and he went to the Little God Nqa.
He went to Nqa at six before breakfast, saying, ‘Make me different from all other animals by five this afternoon.’
Up jumped Nqa from his seat on the sandflat and shouted, ‘Go away!’
He was grey and he was woolly, and his pride was inordinate: he danced on a rock-ledge in the middle of Australia, and he went to the Middle God Nquing.
He went to Nquing at eight after breakfast, saying, ‘ Make me different from all other animals; make me, also, wonderfully popular by five this afternoon.’
Up jumped Nquing from his burrow in the spinifex and shouted, ‘Go away!’
He was grey and he was woolly, and his pride was inordinate: he danced on a sandbank in the middle of Australia, and he went to the Big God Nqong.
He went to Nqong at ten before dinner-time, saying, ‘Make me different from all other animals; make me popular and wonderfully run after by five this afternoon.’
Up jumped Nqong from his bath in the salt-pan and shouted, ‘Yes, I will!’
Nqong called Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—always hungry, dusty in the sunshine, and showed him Kangaroo. Nqong said, ‘Dingo! Wake up, Dingo! Do you see that gentleman dancing on an ashpit? He wants to be popular and very truly run after. Dingo, make him SO!’
Up jumped Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—and said, ‘What, that cat-rabbit?’
Off ran Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—always hungry, grinning like a coal-scuttle,—ran after Kangaroo.
Off went the proud Kangaroo on his four little legs like a bunny.
This, O Beloved of mine, ends the first part of the tale!
He ran through the desert; he ran through the mountains; he ran through the salt-pans; he ran through the reed-beds; he ran through the blue gums; he ran through the spinifex; he ran till his front legs ached.
He had to!
Still ran Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—always hungry, grinning like a rat-trap, never getting nearer, never getting farther,—ran after Kangaroo.
He had to!
Still ran Kangaroo—Old Man Kangaroo. He ran through the ti-trees; he ran through the mulga; he ran through the long grass; he ran through the short grass; he ran through the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer; he ran till his hind legs ached.
He had to!
Still ran Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—hungrier and hungrier, grinning like a horse-collar, never getting nearer, never getting farther; and they came to the Wollgong River.
Now, there wasn’t any bridge, and there wasn’t any ferry-boat, and Kangaroo didn’t know how to get over; so he stood on his legs and hopped.
He had to!
He hopped through the Flinders; he hopped through the Cinders; he hopped through the deserts in the middle of Australia. He hopped like a Kangaroo.
First he hopped one yard; then he hopped three yards; then he hopped five yards; his legs growing stronger; his legs growing longer. He hadn’t any time for rest or refreshment, and he wanted them very much.
Still ran Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—very much bewildered, very much hungry, and wondering what in the world or out of it made Old Man Kangaroo hop.
For he hopped like a cricket; like a pea in a saucepan; or a new rubber ball on a nursery floor.
He had to!
He tucked up his front legs; he hopped on his hind legs; he stuck out his tail for a balance-weight behind him; and he hopped through the Darling Downs.
He had to!
Still ran Dingo—Tired-Dog Dingo—hungrier and hungrier, very much bewildered, and wondering when in the world or out of it would Old Man Kangaroo stop.
Then came Nqong from his bath in the salt-pans, and said, ‘It’s five o’clock.’
Down sat Dingo—Poor Dog Dingo—always hungry, dusky in the sunshine; hung out his tongue and howled.
Down sat Kangaroo—Old Man Kangaroo—stuck out his tail like a milking-stool behind him, and said, ‘Thank goodness that’s finished!’
Then said Nqong, who is always a gentleman, ‘Why aren’t you grateful to Yellow-Dog Dingo? Why don’t you thank him for all he has done for you?’
Then said Kangaroo—Tired Old Kangaroo—He’s chased me out of the homes of my childhood; he’s chased me out of my regular meal-times; he’s altered my shape so I’ll never get it back; and he’s played Old Scratch with my legs.’
Then said Nqong, ‘Perhaps I’m mistaken, but didn’t you ask me to make you different from all other animals, as well as to make you very truly sought after? And now it is five o’clock.’
‘Yes,’ said Kangaroo. ‘I wish that I hadn’t. I thought you would do it by charms and incantations, but this is a practical joke.’
‘Joke!’ said Nqong from his bath in the blue gums. ‘Say that again and I’ll whistle up Dingo and run your hind legs off.’
‘No,’ said the Kangaroo. ‘I must apologise. Legs are legs, and you needn’t alter ‘em so far as I am concerned. I only meant to explain to Your Lordliness that I’ve had nothing to eat since morning, and I’m very empty indeed.’
‘Yes,’ said Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo,—’I am just in the same situation. I’ve made him different from all other animals; but what may I have for my tea?’
Then said Nqong from his bath in the salt-pan, ‘Come and ask me about it tomorrow, because I’m going to wash.’
So they were left in the middle of Australia, Old Man Kangaroo and Yellow-Dog Dingo, and each said, ‘That’s your fault.’